By Terence Chea and Terry Collins
The Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland Mayor Jean Quan made history in January when she became the first Asian American woman to lead a major U.S. city. Less than a year later, the Democratic mayor is quickly losing support on all sides of the political spectrum, mostly over her handling of the city’s Occupy Wall Street protests that drew heavy scrutiny.
Quan’s critics say she has struggled to formulate a coherent response to the Occupy encampment that has overtaken the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall. Police raided the camp on Oct. 25 and fired tear gas during skirmishes with marchers, before Quan allowed protesters to return a day later.
“It was sort of remarkable that she was able to alienate both sides,” said University of San Francisco political scientist Corey Cook of Quan’s relationship with protesters and police. “She has no friends at this point.”
The Occupy movement, which began some months ago in New York City to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality, has spread to cities large and small across the country and around the world. Demonstrators have spent weeks camped out in parks, wearing at the patience of city officials — even those like Quan who have expressed some level of support for their cause.
Quan, 62, a former school board president and city council member, was surprisingly elected mayor last year, succeeding Ron Dellums. She defeated the heavily favored front-runner, former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, in a narrow race, thanks to the city’s ranked-choice voting system.
Since then, Oakland’s city attorney and police chief have both quit over philosophical differences with Quan, and dozens of residents have recently signed a petition seeking to recall her.
Additionally, a top legal adviser, civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, who worked as an unpaid adviser to Quan, resigned over the decision to raid the anti-Wall Street protest encampment.
Siegel was a long-time friend of Quan. They both worked as student protest organizers at the University of California, Berkeley, during the 1960s.
Siegel has been a vocal critic of Oakland police and said the city should have done more to work with the protesters before sending in police. He says the actions taken could have led to more violence.
Quan confirmed Siegel’s resignation at a news conference, simply noting that the pair has been known to disagree on issues.
Quan told reporters in November that being mayor definitely has been challenging.
“This is a pretty complex job, so I have to take everybody into account,” Quan said.
“Although getting the right balance is never an easy task, in Oakland, we are committed to honoring free speech and protecting public safety,” Quan said. Quan was formerly a union organizer. According to the New York Times, her husband and daughter participated in the Occupy protests.
Despite Quan’s vocal support for the Occupy movement, protesters heckled and booed her when she tried to speak to the group last week, sending her retreating into City Hall.
“You need a true leader. This is all too much for her. It’s not her time,” said Ken Houston, an Oakland resident who owns a local construction business and has spent several nights at the Occupy encampment.
The initial crackdown has led prominent liberals to call for her resignation, and last week, a group of Oakland residents filed a petition seeking to recall Quan, saying she’s ignoring public safety as the city’s most pressing issue.
Quan fired back, saying that “the last thing we need is a divisive and expensive recall campaign. In 20 years of serving Oakland, my only agenda has been to work hard for our diverse city.”
Yet her stance on the Occupy Oakland protests has further strained her thin relationship with the city’s police force.
Police are upset they were asked to clear the protesters’ encampment, only to have the camp return the next day. The raid, along with the tear gas-clouded standoff with marchers and other law enforcement actions related to the protest, cost Oakland $1 million, according to the police union. (end)
Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco contributed to this report. Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.